Independent Republic and Early Statehood (1777 – 1800)

The First Union Church in Vermont

After the battles of Hubbardton and Bennington, Poultney citizens returned to their homes. William Ward represented Poultney at the first Vermont General Assembly in March, 1778. At the town meeting of 1780, it was voted to erect a “meeting house” opposite the entrance to the cemetery, which had been established in 1775. This building was used jointly by the Congregationalists and the Baptists, the first Union Church in the State of Vermont. The Rev. Ithamar Hibbard was the first minister. At the town meeting of 1784 a committee was appointed to divide the town into school districts, and three “Trustees of Schools” were elected.

The First Library in Vermont

The first library in Vermont was formed in 1790, the Poultney Library Association, with Thomas Ashley being “the prime mover”. As the History of Poultney reports, “Persons became members by taking one or more shares. The price of a share was $1.50. The money paid for shares was appropriated in the purchase of books, which constituted the library. The meetings of the association were holden once in two months, at the office or room where the library was kept.

“Each proprietor or shareholder paid twelve and a half cents once in two months, which went into the fund used to purchase more books, and each could draw the number of books he was entitled to (which, at first, was one book – afterwards three) at each meeting. This was done by bidding; a list of the books was read, one after the other, and each of the shareholders bid on such books as he wanted, until he received the number to which we was entitled. The rules required that all books should be returned once in two months, and if any were injured, a fine was imposed, paid, and went into the replenishing fund.”

The First Census, 1790

1790 saw the boundary line between New York and Vermont fixed, and in 1791 Vermont was admitted to the United States of America as the 14th state. The first census was taken that same year. In the 20 years since Ebenezer Allen and Thomas Ashley had arrived, the population had grown to 1121.

Early Settlers

From the History of Poultney: “Thomas Ashley settled near the west village; Heber Allen in the east village, or where that village now is; William Ward in the upper part of what was afterwards known as Fenel Hollow; Zebediah Dewey in Hampshire Hollow; Josiah Lewis in the north part of the town … some settling on Pond Hill and Ames’ Hollow.

“It was not then known where the village, villages, or central place or places of business would be. A committee was appointed to find the center of the town. Whether that committee performed this duty does not appear from any record. It might not have occurred to them that natural laws have to do in locating business centers.

“With scarcely any tools but an axe, the first settlers entered the forests, cleared off the timber from a small piece of ground, cut down trees to a suitable length, and, by the help of a few neighbors, reared their log-houses, and covered them with bark. These afforded shelter for their families; and by persevering industry, they were soon enabled to raise a little flax and wool, which was spun woven and colored, and made into clothing by the females for home and Sunday wear.

Saw Mills

“Grist and saw mills became indispensible. As each settler came to be able, [he] cut timber from his own land, or his neighbors, drew it to the saw mill, and thus obtained lumber for a frame house. The people raised their own grain, and ground it in their own mills. A forge was built as early as 1785, at the “Todd place”, by Samuel Joslin and Abel Darling. This was actively run for some years, and furnished the blacksmiths and others with wrought iron.

“There were, at one time, six saw mills on the Poultney River within the limits of the town. One was built by Jonathan Morgan some two miles east of the east village; another a few rods down the stream; another at the falls at the east village; another at the place known as the Candlestick Factory, between the two villages; another on the opposite side of the river from the Ruggles’ Foundry; and another at the “Hampton Bridge”.

“There were, quite early, two saw mills in the south-east part of town, on a small stream called “Endless Brook”, which empties into Lake St. Catharine. There were also two in the south-west part of the town, on what was called the “Hadaway Brook”. There were two on “Lewis Brook”, in the north part of town.

Grist Mills

“Prior to 1800, five grist mills had been erected on Poultney River within the limits of the town, one by Mr. Morgan, near his saw mill; one at the “Todd place,” a half mile east of the east village; one at East Poultney, the first one, built by Nehemiah Howe before 1777; one at the Candlestick Factory place, and one at the Hampton Bridge place.

“The town had, from its earliest settlement, its quota of mechanics. It had the blacksmith, the carpenter and joiner, the tailor, the shoemaker – in short, all the mechanics and manufacturers necessary to produce any article that was deemed a want or a necessity.

Log Cabins Replaced

“By 1800, the log-houses, one by one, over the town, were giving place to substantial frame dwellings, many of which featured the ‘old-fashioned fire-place’. This was the ‘fireside’ indeed, with all that term implies in prose, poetry or song. At the bottom of the large flue which led up through the chimney to the open air, was the fireplace. The bottom was at level with the kitchen floor, deep and spacious enough to take in a “back log” of three or four feet in length, and two feet in diameter, with another stick top of that, half or two-thirds its size, and in front of these a ‘fore stick’ from eight inches to a foot in diameter, resting on andirons, with space enough between the fore-stick and back-log for the kindling and small wood. At the bottom, and in front of the fire-place, reaching out from two to four feet into the room, was a hearth made of flat stones, as smooth and regular in form as could be obtained.

“With all the wood, large sticks and small, well on fire, so lighting the room that the tallow candle could be dispensed with; a mug of cider on the hearth at one corner of the fire-place, and a large dish well filled with choice apples at the other corner, and the family, with perhaps a few neighbors or visitors, all animated and cheerful, sitting and forming a semicircle in front of, and facing the bright and glowing fire – and we have a view of the farmer’s kitchen in the winter evenings in the early 19th century.”

The Census of 1800

The increase in population from 1791 to 1800, as shown by the census, was 573, for a total of 1,627, the largest single ten-year percentage increase in Poultney history.